Snowboarding and the inbound market
During the early 90's when snowboarding first appeared in Japan, the few boarders taking to the slopes were looked on at with some amusement and curiosity by some skiers.
That quickly changed.
At first, resorts where you were allowed to snowboard were few and far between in Japan, but now that situation is almost completely reversed. There are now only a small minority of resorts remaining in Japan that do not allow snowboarders on their slopes. These remaining resorts now use their skiers-only policy as a selling point – usually to attract families and those skiers who for one reason or another would prefer not to share the slopes with snowboarders.
Currently, the number of snowboarders on the slopes of Japanese snow resorts is probably equal to that of skiers, and at some resorts snowboarders now outnumber skiers. Some resorts are well known as being a skiers-mountain while others are more popular with snowboarders, as you might imagine.
Emergence of the inbound market
The other thing that has changed in recent years, and a trend that is most definitely set to continue, is the increase in number of foreigners on the slopes of Japan.
When SnowJapan first went online back in 1999, it was uncommon to come across another foreigner on skis. And the ones that you did see were mostly those living in Japan. You can still go to many smaller ski-jo and never see a foreigner all day, but some of the larger resorts are increasingly becoming ‘international’ - whether the resort has planned it or not. At least at the major resorts - you will almost definitely be bumping into some other foreigners.
One resort area that has benefitted the most up until now are the resorts in the Niseko region of Hokkaido. Niseko is now almost unrecognizable to anyone who has not been there for 20 years. A number of foreigners - many of them Australian - have worked over the last decade or so to successfully develop the Niseko scene for Australian skiers and boarders. Development continues as ‘Niseko Powder’ becomes well-known to skiers and snowboarders in many parts of the world. It is certainly the ski resort area of Japan where you will meet the most non-Japanese, and in doing so offers a distinctly different flavor to most other Japanese ski resorts.
Other regions that have seen a dramatic increase in interest from overseas in recent years include Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen (both in Nagano Prefecture), Yuzawa and Myoko (in Niigata Prefecture) and other regions of Hokkaido including Rusutsu and Furano, amongst others.
Other ski resort areas in Japan are looking on and observing the success with this new overseas market and are also beginning to take steps to try and appeal to non-Japanese. Or at least think about it. Many more simply aren’t interested and wouldn’t know how to go about it and prefer to concentrate on revitalizing the domestic market.
The majority of ski hills in Japan do not actively do anything themselves to attract non-Japanese guests, so it is very easy to find ski-jo that have little to no English and retain a distinctly Japanese traditional feel. Of course, for some coming from overseas that appeals more than a more international atmosphere.
Until now the ‘inbound market’ has been predominantly Australian and east Asian, but increasing numbers of skiers and boarders from Europe, the US and beyond are now visiting Japan. And we can only expect that to expand further as more people come to Japan and go back and tell other people about their time in Japan.